The problems these 5 start-ups are solving – business accelerator

As an employee of former publisher Sanoma, I am taking part in the Sanoma internal venture program, called the business accelerator. In two months we will be trained on the lean start up method and have to work out some big business ideas that will disrupt the (media) business and make millions in a couple of years.

For the first assignment, we had to look at 5 start-ups and apply reversed engineering: what are the problems these 5 start-ups solve? We took a closer look at Boundless, Framely, Snapchat, Square and Appsavvy.


Traditional publisher Sanoma
As you may know, I work at Sanoma. Sanoma is a Finnish company, run by a Finnish family. In Finland, Sanoma is known for it’s newspapers and learning department. In the Netherlands  you may know Sanoma for websites like, and print magazines Libelle, Marie CIaire, Donald Duck, Grazia, vtwonen and many more brands. I have worked at Sanoma (VNU back then) from 1998 until now, but I also stepped out for 5 years to work at the internet agency Lost Boys, design studio Studio Room and charity company Plan Nederland. Sanoma, a traditional media company is coping with big problems right now, because we have to transfer from print to digital and mobile and make brands out of our strong print magazines and websites.

Business Accelerator
Sanoma is looking for new business opportunities. The opportunities have to be big, and deliver millions of euros in a few years, even better when it is in the first year. That is not an easy assignment and I doubt if we find it in an accelerator program like this. What I do believe is that by learning this method they use in the accelerator, the lean start up method, we will do things better in our existing businesses and new ideas will definitely come. They may or may not be the 10 million dollar solution, but only if we take some time to let them grow. I think we have to invest in some good ideas, even if they will take more than two years. That’s a gamble in these times, but nobody can predict which apps/sites/brands are going to make it in a few years. There are no clear rules at this stage where technology is changes so fast (check out singularity)

The lean start up method by eric ries
Assignment: investigate 5 start-ups
The first assignment of the business accelerator is to Investigate 5 start-ups and describe their Problem-Solution fit. What are the customer problems that these start-ups are solving? What pains do the customers have and what solution do these start-ups offer? We can use the Value proposition Canvas where the questions are defined to determine both the problem and the solution. Here are my answers:

1. Boundless
Problems that Boundless, the online textbook alternative, solves:
▪    Text books are expensive and heavy to carry everywhere
▪    Paper books are outdated fast
▪    Reading a whole book doesn’t mean you understand the content

Solution:  Boundless is a textbook alternative you can use instead of the expensive textbook assigned to you and you can read anywhere. The ‘instant search’ pulls up what you’re looking for within seconds and the SmartNotes are summarized readings of the books collected by professors.

2. Dutch Start-up Framely

Problems that Framely, a private video sharing service, solves:
▪    Youtube is public and loaded with videos, you can’t choose and you don’t know what is safe and interesting
▪    You can’t email private video’s because they are too heavy and not everybody knows how to open them
▪     On public spaces like youtube and vimeo it doesn’t feel safe and fun and it’s too commercial

Solution: Framely is a personal video sharing platform suitable for all ages. It’s a fun way to capture, share and see your moving memories.

3. Snapchat 

Problems that Snapchat, a mobile ephemeral messaging service, solves:
▪     Photo’s, moments, and secrets you share last forever on a server somewhere
▪    All family members and friends are on Facebook and Twitter and read along with you

Solution: Snapchat is a mobile app which you can then use to “chat” with friends through photos, videos and captions. The message will self-destruct a few seconds after photos have been viewed by the recipient.

4. Square 

Problems that Square, a mobile payment service and register, solves:
▪    People carry less cash
▪     Paying small amounts of money through a card costs retailers relatively more money
▪     A mobile pin-machine is expensive for retailers

Solution: Square is a merchant services aggregator and mobile payments company. Square Register allows individuals and merchants to accept offline cards on their smartphone or tablet.

5. Appsavvy

Problems that Appsavvy, a mobile native advertising service, solves:
▪    ad agencies have to create ads in all sizes and for all screens for their campaigns
▪     advertising on small screens don’t convert as well as on a computer or laptop
▪     people are banner-blind and irritated by ads on (small)screens

Solution: Appssavvy delivers of web and mobile native advertising focused on activity of the users.

I personally see a great future for all of the services but I have to be honest that I have my doubts about Framely. That concept is ok, but it is a closed cirquit that’s hard to make it work, to get in into your system like wetransfer, a service you just need. Do you think I got the answers right? Dou you have advice or comments? Love to hear from you.
The accelerator is an initiative of Sanoma’s director of innovation Lassi who works for this together with Makerlab.

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